When will your next book come out?
My next stand alone novel, Band of Sisters (aka The Smith Book), marches onto shelves on March 2nd, 2021. Based on the remarkable true story of the Smith College Relief Unit, this book follows a band of eighteen determined Smith College alumnae who sally out to the Somme at the height of World War I to bring humanitarian relief to war-ravaged French villagers under the very shadow of the German guns. My editor calls this book “Smithies at War”. I call it my “Call the Midwife meets The Alice Network book”– but with less gynecology.
Scholarship girl Kate Moran joins the Unit just weeks before they sail for France in July 1917, after her college roommate, Emmie Van Alden, begs her to fill in for a girl who had to drop out. Kate worries that she’ll be out of place among the confident upper-middle class women of the Unit, but as they battle French bureaucracy, German artillery, stubborn farm animals, Unit infighting, and a British army that wants the women out of their war zone, Kate finds herself having to reevaluate everything she thought she knew about herself and the true nature of friendship.
Aside from inserting my fictional characters with their own emotional dramas into the Unit, everything that happens in this book is very closely based on the letters of the members of the actual Smith College Relief Unit, who wrote the most marvelously snarky, chatty, gossipy letters home, finding humor in the most horrific circumstances. I loved living with them through their time in France and I only hope you adore my Smithies as much as I do! You can find a more thorough description of the book (and the gorgeous cover!) here.
In other news, Team W is at it again! Our third collaboration, All The Ways We Said Goodbye, pops up in paperback on February 2nd, 2021— exactly a month before Band of Sisters! Sweeping from World War I, to World War II, to the swinging 1960s, All The Ways We Said Goodbye follows three memorable women, all of whom seek solace in the Paris Ritz. Half-French heiress Aurelie flees her despised American mother and the safety of the Ritz to go behind enemy lines during World War I. A quiet wife and mother, Daisy finds herself at the hub of Resistance activity in the Ritz during World War II. Last, but not least, English widow, Babs Langford, goes to the Ritz seeking the key to her lost husband’s past– and finds her own future in the process. And if you think there might be some overlap between Band of Sisters and All the Ways… you might just be right! Points to anyone who can find the link….
In the meantime, Team W is hard at work on our fourth (!!) collaboration, about which we can’t tell you much right now other than that it might have something to do with the glittering history of Newport, RI. (Where you just might see a familiar character from previous Team W books popping up! I’m betting some of you have already guessed who it is.) The Newport book is slated to appear in early 2022.
I’m also working on my next stand alone novel, a sort of prequel to Band of Sisters, which should be on shelves in spring 2022. Once I actually, you know, write it. You can read more about that below!
What are you working on now?
Right now, I’m up to my elbows in both the Greco-Turkish War of 1897 and the Spanish-American War of 1898 (Rough Riders!!) with the redoubtable Betsy Hayes, Smith graduate, pioneering archaeologist, and accidental Red Cross war nurse. When I was working on Band of Sisters, I became deeply fascinated by the (real) charismatic and eccentric founder of the Smith College Relief Unit: Harriet Boyd Hawes, who graduated from Smith with a Classics degree, fought against restrictions on women archaeologists during her time at the American School in Athens, was decorated by Queen Olga of Greece for her war work during the Greco-Turkish War, and then, for some strange reason, volunteered as a Red Cross nurse during the Spanish-American war before returning to Greece to make history by excavating Crete. Why? Why did she drop everything to join Clara Barton in Florida? My imagination started churning and as I wrote about my own Harriet Boyd Hawes equivalent (the fictional Betsy Hayes Rutherford) leading the Smith Unit in 1917, intriguing little clues about Betsy’s past began to pop up. So, of course, I couldn’t resist going back and writing her story. And that’s what I’m working on now….
Smith II, The ReSmithening, is tentatively slated to appear on shelves at some point in spring of 2022. More about Betsy’s book once Band of Sisters is safely out in the world!
Where can I find a printable book list?
Right here! Voila the Printable Book List. You can also find the Printable Book List on the Media Room page.
Are you planning to write Lizzie Reid’s story?
You know I never say never…. Although Lizzie’s story isn’t on the immediate agenda, it’s certainly there in the back of my head. Since Lizzie’s story takes place much later, chronologically, than the rest of the Pink books, I haven’t decided yet whether Lizzie’s story would be an additional Pink book with an Eloise frame or if it would work better as a stand alone novel.
Is The Ashford Affair part of a series?
The Ashford Affair is separate and entire unto itself. I did sneak a descendant of one of my Pink Carnation characters, Lord Vaughn, into the book (how could any descendant of Vaughn and Mary resist partying in the Happy Valley?), but other than that, it’s completely unconnected to any of my other books.
My second book for St. Martin’s Press, That Summer, which revolves around the early days of the Preraphaelite movement in 1840s London (see above), is also a stand alone. As with Ashford, however, I couldn’t resist putting in a Pink connection: the modern hero of the book, Nicholas Dorrington, is a direct descendant of Miles and Henrietta.
In what order should the Pink Carnation books be read?
For both the short and the long answer to that question, check out the Book Order page.
Do you have any plans to go back to writing the Pink Carnation Series?
I loved writing the Pink books. I wrapped the series up for two reasons– um, no. Three reasons. Not one shall you count, not two, but…. First, I wanted to make sure I ended the series before it became stale, instead of letting it drag on and become a parody of itself, as sometimes happens with long-running series. Second, I wanted to make sure I wrapped it up properly and didn’t leave readers hanging. This world uncertain is, as the poet says, and nothing more uncertain than publishing. A series can be hot one moment and dead the next, and there’s nothing more annoying than a series that breaks off without a proper resolution (ahem, 1990s remake of Dark Shadows, ahem). Third, I had other books I wanted to write. For a while, I tried juggling a Pink a year plus a stand alone a year, but with the addition to my life of small people who wanted to be fed and bathed and entertained and seemed to think that naps were something that happened to other people, the two book a year model became unsustainable. Would I ever go back to Pink? Absolutely. There are at least two more stories I want to tell: Kat and Tommy, and Lizzie and Nicolas, not to mention that modern side novel about Eloise and Colin caught up in thriller-type stuff, and possibly a book set in– Um, anyway. There I go again. At the moment, I’m focusing on my stand alones and the Team W collaborations, but Pink will always have a special place in my heart and in my imagination, and, possibly once again, in my computer files.
Do you plan to continue giving characters and couples appearances in future books?
It would be hard to keep them out of it. I would never bring old characters in purely for the sake of giving them a cameo, since that does a disservice to the current story, but my fictional world is a very interwoven one. Rather like real life, where you’re constantly running across people you know, my characters tend to bump into one another a fair amount, so it’s a good bet that you’ll see old characters in new books.
You mentioned you were possibly thinking about doing short stories to catch up with previous characters. Are you still planning on doing that?
As many as time permits! Right now, you can find Amy and Richard’s Christmas novella (Ivy & Intrigue), Henrietta and Miles’s first Valentine’s Day together (Bunny & Biscuits), and a Turnip wedding night bonus chapter (Away in a Manger) all up on the Extras page. I’m hoping to eventually get to the rest of the Pink couples, with Geoff and Letty the next up.
What area of the law did you focus on and work in? How has your work in the legal profession influenced your historical writing?
During my very brief legal career, I worked as a litigator. It was Big Firm litigation, which meant that I was dealing largely with corporations rather than individuals, and found myself learning a lot more about abstruse accounting principles than I would have otherwise liked. As to the second half of that question, I really don’t have a pat answer. I do think that there are interesting similarities in the way one constructs a brief and the way one constructs a story: both are productions meant to persuade. Both rely on the mustering of examples and the creation of a certain type of atmosphere. Aside from that, I’m not sure. Although the hero of The Orchid Affair is a lawyer!
What are your favorite historical movies/costume dramas?
My favorite go-to costume dramas include the Anthony Andrews Scarlet Pimpernel, the Ciaran Hinds Persuasion, the BBC production of Clarissa (Vaughn owes a lot to Sean Bean as Lovelace), the Sharpe series (do you sense a Sean Bean theme?), and Horatio Hornblower. I’m also a big fan of Dangerous Beauty, although I prefer the English title, The Honest Courtesan. Then, of course, there are the classics of swash and buckle: Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk, Robin Hood, Ivanhoe, and Zorro.
Do you outline your books in advance?
I outline constantly—and I save the old outlines, so I can laugh hollowly over them two months later, when they no longer bear any resemblance to what I’ve actually written. I’m always impressed by those people who can outline a book in advance and stick to it. Frequently, the bits on my original outlines I’m most pleased with are the bits that prove most unworkable in practice, and find their way into the dustbin.
Despite their lack of utility as an actual blueprint, I do find outlines quite useful for organizing my thoughts, and working through plot kinks. In general, I tend to have a fairly detailed outline for whatever the next five chapters may be, and then a sketchier outline for anything that comes after that. It helps me keep track of the overall story and pacing, while still maintaining the flexibility to adjust to unexpected plot twists.
How much of the modern story of Pink Carnation is autobiographical?
Hmm, a handsome Englishman, a cache of never-before-seen papers…. If only. I did loan Eloise my basement flat in Bayswater, as well as a rather bizarre party featuring models and glo-sticks, but the rest is pure imagination. And, no, no boyfriend of mine ever smooched another woman in the cloakroom of the Faculty Club, nor did I go abroad because I was thwarted in love. (Believe it or not, I’ve actually been asked that several times since the book came out—including by an old family friend!). It’s called fiction for a reason.
Where do you get your ideas?
Every now and again, the Good Plot Fairy will wave her magic wand over my head. When I fail to pay attention, the Good Plot Fairy will then bash me over the head several times until I sit up, stick a bookmark in whatever novel I’ve been reading, and take notice. At least, that’s what happened with The Secret History of the Pink Carnation. “What if…” a little voice whispered in my ear (most of my bouts of demented pacing and muttering to myself usually start with those fatal words, “what if”). “What if you paired a know-it-all English spy with a stubborn royalist heroine?” And once the idea appeared, it wouldn’t go away. That darned spy kept dashing back and forth through my head (sometimes swinging on a rope, just for variety), until I finally had to do something about him.
But that initial, comet-blazing-across-the-sky, Big Idea is only the beginning. Each book is composed of a mosaic of thousands of little ideas, ideas that invariably come to me at two in the morning when my alarm is set for seven. Ideas like, “What if Amy sees Georges Marston standing outside the house in a black cloak?” In fact, the bigger the initial idea, the more problems it causes, and the more mini-ideas it takes to sort everything out. For example, for the book I’m working on right now, the Big Idea, the idea that clunked me over the head—repeatedly—and wouldn’t leave me alone for nights on end, was “What if my hero were to accidentally elope with the wrong woman?” This seemed like a great idea. Until I started working on it. At which point I had to start answering questions like, “How in the hell do two sensible individuals get themselves into that sort of situation?” and “What was I drinking—er, thinking?”
Who are your favorite authors?
It’s always impossible to answer that without leaving scads of people out, since my favorite authors list stretches to an alarming length. But I do have a shelf of books that has traveled with me from my childhood room… to college… to various apartments in Cambridge… and even England. The Security Shelf basics are L.M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle, Robin McKinley’s Beauty, M.M. Kaye’s Trade Wind, Judith McNaught’s Almost Heaven, Paradise Lost, a complete Shakespeare, the collected poems of John Donne (featuring a rather cocky courtier glowering from the cover), ditto Yeats, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Stoppard’s Arcadia, C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces, and revolving selections by Nancy Mitford, Elizabeth Peters, Judith Merkle Riley, and Julia Quinn. Other favorites (which didn’t make it onto the Security Shelf, but are beloved nonetheless) include Karleen Koen’s Through a Glass Darkly, Diane Gabaldon’s Outlander, and anything by Georgette Heyer. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. My dream in life is to someday have an apartment with enough bookshelves to house all my books, without involving large piles in front of my couch and next to my bed and under my kitchen table….
I’m just starting my historical novel—do you have any research tips?
Lots and lots! I gave a talk on the subject at a conference last spring, and one of these days I really will get around to posting my workshop outline on the website. In the meantime, here are a few research strategies that have worked for me.
Start with biographies. Biographies often contain wonderful details about physical culture (clothing, food, architecture) that more straightforward political histories lack. They give you an excellent sense of what the time period was like as it was actually lived—and they also usually have excellent footnotes you can pounce on to locate other scholarly works and primary sources. For example, for my research on Napoleon’s court, I originally started with Theo Aronson’s The Golden Bees, Andre Castelot’s Napoleon, and Evangeline Bruce’s Napoleon and Josephine, and then tracked down the contemporary memoirs they had used as sources.
Don’t neglect museums. Some museums have wonderful collections of furniture and other everyday objects, and many (like my personal favorite, the V&A in London), have posted substantial numbers of images on-line. Not quite as good as getting to go in person, but still a wonderful source of ideas for furnishing your heroine’s boudoir. I’m also a big fan of glossy coffee-table books about antiques with lots of pictures and diagrams—and, fortunately, there always seem to be lots of those available, for a fraction of their proper price, at used books stores.
And then there are writers’ groups. I’m a member of the Beau Monde, the Regency chapter of Romance Writers of America. The sheer amount of esoteric information possessed by the members of the group could fill several libraries and quite a few history departments.